Francis Weller on the obscenity of having to “earn a living”

Recently I made my first “meme,” inspired by a podcast conversation between two of my favorite writers – Charles Eisenstein, author of Sacred Economics, and Francis Weller, author of The Wild Edge of Sorrow: Rituals of Renewal and the Sacred Work of Grief.

I wanted to share it here, along with an announcement that I am working on a new essay for this blog.  It’s a response to critics who shame artists on the Patreon crowdfunding platform and tell them to “stop asking for charity and get a real job.”  I’m also in the midst of revising an old essay that has been a reader favorite – the new title is: “Is Nothing Sacred?  On ‘Doing Nothing’ and Leisure as Resistance.” Stay tuned for news!

Image credits: Photo by Sam Grant, used with permission. Text added by me, D. JoAnne Swanson.

You have to earn a living - Francis Weller

Recommended Reading: Ethan Miller – Occupy, Connect, Create

Victorian bookshelfIt’s been many months since my last update here. I still keep up the Facebook page a bit more frequently, but since I’ve been getting a few e-mail queries lately about the status of this blog, I should be clear about the reason for the lack of updates.  Most of my limited writing time is being devoted to my Pagan blog, The Black Stone Hermitage, and to my current book manuscript on dark ambient music and culture.  Rethinking the Job Culture is NOT going away, though; I’ve only put it on the back burner for awhile.  I’ll continue to post things here once in awhile, and eventually – probably a few years down the road – you will see my focus re-directed to this project.

Since I won’t have any new material from my own hand to post here for awhile, I’ll take the liberty of occasionally sharing things written by others that I appreciate.  On top of that list is the work of Ethan Miller.  He and Charles Eisenstein are the two writers I know about at the moment whose work seems most aligned with my vision for Rethinking the Job Culture.

Ethan Miller’s brilliant and inspiring article Occupy, Connect, Create receives my highest recommendation.  I printed out a copy in 2011, and have come back to it many times for reference ever since.

Here’s a taste:

“Many of us who once relied on the basic economic institutions of our societies–education, employment, healthcare, public infrastructure, retirement, social assistance in times of need–are confronting the brutal reality that such faith is no longer merited. Meanwhile, the “experts” poised to deal with this mess are working in the service of the very institutions that profit from it.

“And what if these experts could “fix” our economy? What if we could convince them to “curb the excesses of Wall Street” and get our economic engine “back on track”? This demand would ignore the fact that the very success of the capitalist market economy–the ways in which it has seemingly provided so many with so much in so short a time–is built on violence and plunder. […]

“The sorcery of capitalist economics is precisely to make its own violence invisible, so that it can appear to be nothing but the miraculous liberator of human potential and the progressive deliverer of ever-abundant goods. And there is a disturbingly good reason for us to give in to this illusion: most of us are dependent on the very economy that has systematically exploited us and undermined the health of our communities and our environments. We have come to rely on the very “job creators” (that new euphemism for exploiters) whose project of profiting at our expense we condemn. We have come to need the very economic growth machine that is eating our world and destabilizing our planetary climate in the name of “progress.”

“We can no longer ignore the immense challenge at the heart of this moment in history: We are trapped in patterns of life on which we have come to depend, but which we must fundamentally transform as a matter of our very survival. How do we acknowledge our dependence, and address the needs that it gives rise to, while also imagining and constructing new forms of freedom? […]

“The economy” is a way of thinking and experiencing the world in which our power and agency is robbed from us…This economy was constructed by processes of enclosure, where people were forcibly separated from their means of subsistence (land, community, tools and skills) and pushed into dependence on wage-jobs and commodity purchases. […]

“It is not a naïve notion of “dropping out” (as if everyone had the privilege to do this, or the privilege to choose otherwise), or a dreamy hope of evading hard work and struggle. It is, rather, about recognizing that the work of breaking out of our dependence is a necessary site for our creative action. […]

“We must shift from simply asking how we might create more (or better) jobs to asking about how we can progressively create the conditions in which we no longer need them.

“…how can we begin to build a world in which the unpaid labor of birthing, parenting, caring for elders, building community, creating art, working for justice, and defending and restoring our ecosystems can be supported as shared social goods? What forms of accounting would make this work and its value publicly visible? […]

“And second, how do we re-common the enclosures that created our dependency on wage-work in the first place? […] Life beyond “jobs” is not for everyone, and nor does it need to be. But it must become an ever-more available option. […]

“Do we know how to make this possible? Not yet.

“But we can say this: It is time to launch the largest explosion of practical experimentation that our society has ever seen.”

Charles Eisenstein on work, leisure, and ‘not-doing’

Full desk clip art (PD)I’ve just finished reading Charles Eisenstein‘s inspiring new book, The More Beautiful World Our Hearts Know Is Possible.  It is every bit as brilliant as 2011’s Sacred Economics, and I recommend it just as highly.  In lieu of a new blog post from me – I’m working on several, but none are ready yet – I’d like to share an extended series of quotes from the new book that are particularly relevant for rethinking the job culture.  Enjoy!

“Immersed in a system that never lets us rest, that condemns laziness and pushes us toward ever-increasing busyness through economic pressure, we…tell ourselves we must always be doing something.  Time’s a-wastin’!

“The primary habit that arises from it [existential scarcity] is the habit of always doing.  Here and now is never enough.  You might protest that most people in the Western world spend vast amounts of time doing nothing productive at all, watching TV and playing video games, but those are displacements of doing, and not nondoing.

“I am not saying that it is bad to do.  I am saying that there is a time to do, and a time not to do, and that when we are a slave to the habit of doing we are unable to distinguish between them.

“A good time to do nothing is any time you feel stuck.  I have done a lot of nothing in the writing of this book.  For several days I was trying to write the conclusion, spinning my wheels, turning out tawdry rehashes of earlier material.  The more I did, the worse it got.  So I finally gave up the effort and just sat there on the couch…with no agenda whatever of figuring out what to write.  It was from that empty place that the conclusion arose, unbidden.

“…do you find yourself contracting a case of the fuck-its?  The procrastination, the laziness, the halfhearted attempts, the going through the motions – all indicate that the old story isn’t motivating you anymore.  What once made sense, makes sense no longer.  You are beginning to withdraw from that world.  Society does its best to persuade you to resist that withdrawal, which, when resisted, is called depression.  Increasingly potent motivational and chemical means are required to keep us focused on what we don’t want to focus on, to keep us motivated to do that which we don’t care about.  If fear of poverty doesn’t work, then maybe psychiatric medication will.  Anything to keep you participating in business as usual.

“You can’t just do whatever you feel like.”  “You can’t just do anything you want.”  “You have to learn self-restraint.”  “You’re only interested in gratifying your desires.”  “You don’t care about anything but your own pleasure.”  Can you hear the judgmentality in these admonitions?  Can you see how they reproduce the mentality of domination that runs our civilization?  Goodness comes through conquest.  Health comes through conquering bacteria.  Agriculture is improved by eliminating pests.  Society is made safe by winning the war on crime.  On my walk today, students accosted me, asking if I wanted to join the “fight” against pediatric cancer.  There are so many fights, crusades, campaigns, so many calls to overcome the enemy by force.  No wonder we apply the same strategy to ourselves.  Thus it is that the inner devastation of the Western psyche matches exactly the outer devastation it has wreaked on the planet. […]

“…it is scary to not do, or rather, to not impose doing.  Most of us have grown up in a society that trains us, from kindergarten or even earlier, to do things we don’t really want to do, and to refrain from things we do want to.  This is called discipline, the work ethic, self-control.  Since the dawn of the Industrial Revolution at least, it has been seen as a cardinal virtue.  After all, most of the tasks of industry were not anything a sane human being would willingly do.  To this day, most of the tasks that keep society as we know it running are the same.  Lured by future rewards, chastened by punishment, we face the grim necessity of work.  This would all be defensible, perhaps, if this were were truly necessary, if it were contributing to the well-being of people and planet.  But at least 90 percent of it is not.  Part of our revolution is the reunion of work and play, work and art, work and leisure, of have to and want to.

“Our discomfort with a teaching like “You don’t have to do anything” comes in part from our thorough indoctrination into the work ethic, which holds that without the discipline of doing, nothing gets done.  If there were no grades hanging over their heads, no paycheck at the end of the week, and no internalized habit of work such devices have created, then most people wouldn’t keep doing what they do.  Only those who work for the love of it would continue – only those whose work gave them a palpable sense of service, of contribution, or of meaning.  In preparation for such a world, and to prepare such a world, let us cultivate the corresponding habit: in whatever way makes sense, let us practice trusting the impulse to work, and when it is not present, let us hold each other through the panic, uncertainty, and guilt that may arise.  […]

“You don’t have to do anything – why?  Not because nothing needs to be done.  It is that you don’t have to, because you will do.  The unstoppable compulsion to act, in bigger and wiser ways than you knew possible, has already been set in motion.  I am urging you to trust in that.  You needn’t contrive to motivate yourself, guilt yourself, or goad yourself into actions.  Actions taken from that place will be less powerful than ones that arise unbidden.  Trust yourself that you will know what to do, and that you will know when to do it.  […]

“When somebody is showing signs of distress and tiredness in organizing a specific activity we always ask – do you feel connected with what you are doing?  Does it make you happy or do you feel that you need to sacrifice for it?  If this feels like ‘work,’ stop it!”

“Doing only what makes them feel good, only what makes them feel connected, only what doesn’t feel like work…does that mean they get less done than when they were driven by urgency and seeking to be more efficient?  No, they get more done.  […]

“Not that there is anything wrong with work.  Work and play, work and leisure…it is time to question these polarities.  That doesn’t mean indolence.  When I worked in construction, the labor was sometimes very strenuous, but it was rarely an ordeal.  I didn’t have the feeling of fighting myself or forcing myself.  There is a time to make great efforts, a time to push one’s capacities to the limit.  We have after all been given those capacities for a reason.  But struggle is not supposed to be the default state of life.”

~ pp. 106 – 138

Success, Dependency, and Alienation: A Discussion

public-domain-book-clipart[Recently, on the Facebook page associated with this blog, a quote I posted from Charles Eisenstein spawned a fascinating and friendly discussion with two of my readers.  I thought it deserved a wider audience than it would get if I left it buried in a Facebook comment thread, so with the permission of the participants, I have reproduced it here, after slight editing for readability.]

It’s been quite awhile since I quoted Charles Eisenstein, one of my favourite authors. Time to remedy that! Eisenstein is brilliant in a way that is unusual for scholarly non-fiction writers: his writing style combines intellectual rigor, exceptional emotional intelligence, systems philosophy, radicalism, and spiritual depth.

The following quotes are from Chapter 14 of Sacred Economics by Charles Eisenstein. Note that, in keeping with his gift model, the book can be read in its entirety online.

“Not only is the experience of scarcity an artifact of our money system, but the laziness we view as human nature is a valid response to the kind of work that system engenders. If you find yourself being lazy, procrastinating, doing slipshod work, showing up late, not concentrating, and so on, then perhaps the problem isn’t your character after all: perhaps it is a soul’s rebellion against work that you don’t really want to do. It is a message that says, “It is time to find your true work: that through which you can apply your gifts toward something meaningful.” Ignore that message, and your unconscious will enforce it through depression, self-sabotage, illness, or accident, disabling you from living any more a life not aligned with your generosity.


“Sacred Economics envisions a world where people do things for love, not money. What would you be doing in such an economy? Would you be reclaiming a toxic waste dump? Being a “big sister” to troubled adolescents? Creating sanctuaries for victims of human trafficking? Reintroducing threatened species into the wild? Installing gardens in inner-city neighborhoods? Putting on public performances? Helping decommissioned veterans adjust to civilian life? What would you do, freed from slavery to money? What does your own life, your true life, look like? Underneath the substitute lives we are paid to live, there is a real life, your life.

“To be fully alive is to accept the guidance of the question, “What am I here for?” Most jobs today deny that feeling, since we are evidently not here to work on an assembly line or to push product or to do anything complicit in human impoverishment or ecological destruction. No one really wants to do such work, and someday, no one shall.”


D. JoAnne Swanson:

I think Eisenstein is asking very powerful questions here. What would YOU do, freed from slavery to money? I have known for a long time that my first answer to that question would be “finish writing my book,” but Sacred Economics has inspired me to think much more deeply about this question and answer it in more detail.



One has two choices in a capitalist society. Either plug yourself into a paying job or become an entrepreneur. If you do neither, then you are categorized as “dependent” and are shunted into one of three sub-categories: sick, disabled or lazy.



Sad but true…and the USA is an extreme version of this, where “dependents” who aren’t economically productive are treated with thinly veiled disdain at best, and often outright abused. This is but one among many ways the Puritan work ethic continues to hold sway over so much of our culture. One of the maddening things about the prevalence of this kind of ideology is that it draws attention away from the way the money economy we have now is extracting real value away from goods, services, relationships, and ecosystems. Look deep enough and it can be seen that the money system we have is actually dependent on gift culture and unpaid work…but because our culture is so deeply in thrall to a toxic ideology of work, and so preoccupied with determining which of the “dependents” are “deserving” and which are not, it can be difficult to dig deep enough to understand how the process actually plays out.



Of course, if one doesn’t conform to capitalist expectations there are some strategies which can minimize or delay the corrosive effects of the label on the psyche. Taking marriage vows or enrolling in university are two such strategies but they will end in failure because the commitments were based on false pretenses.



Well, I don’t doubt that one of the motivating factors for some people who marry or enroll in university is to minimize the shame our culture mercilessly heaps on people who are considered economically unproductive or “dependent” (although marriage doesn’t necessarily help much with this; homemaking work, for example, is still viewed with thinly veiled disdain). However, I think it’s more effective to focus efforts on helping people realize the true value of their unpaid labour than it is to point the finger at them and tell them their strategies will “end in failure” (whatever that means in this context.)



I am not pointing fingers. It is intended as a bit of wisdom. Ultimately, it is better to “fail” than to be miserable trying to a “succeed”, because you will be miserable if you are not honest with yourself. However, the norms of capitalist society drive many individuals to practice self-deception out of fear being rejected and stigmatized if they are true to themselves.



Ah. That makes a lot of sense, and thank you for the clarification. I agree that it’s ultimately better to “fail” in the sense of not living up to cultural standards than it is to than spend one’s life being miserable in a quest to “succeed” economically. Still, I can’t really fault people for not being fully honest with themselves about these things, because as you rightly point out, the cultural norms and the pressures to be “successful” are very powerful, and there are real costs borne by those who don’t conform. (Yes, I learned this the hard way myself…how else do people learn?) 😉



I am not sure. If we only learn through failure then I would say life is absurdly cruel and not worth living. Are we not allowed to learn through joy?



Oh, indeed we are allowed to learn through joy! In fact, that is my favourite way of all, and it happens to be one of the reasons I started Rethinking the Job Culture in the first place – because I want to live in a world where that happens more often! (I put that little wink at the end of the sentence because I meant those words in a tongue-in-cheek way.)

Also, I think it’s worth noting that while misery can result from lack of honesty with oneself about one’s real motivations, it’s also true that misery can result from being so relentlessly driven to seek the truth that one eventually becomes completely alienated from one’s own culture. That’s a different kind of misery, but it can be equally debilitating, I think.



I think the statement that truth seeking can be taken so far as to make oneself miserable is very compelling. I get the sense that there’s something irreducible in such a misery. I mean, you arrive at that misery because you think everything happening around you is wrong, destructive (i.e. not truth); so what are you going to do? Will you resort to the same kind of wrong, destructive actions yourself in order to cure your misery? Wouldn’t that be turning your back on what’s true? I’m not sure the resulting misery and alienation are debilitating things, necessarily. I think other influences in our upbringing, in our culture are responsible for each one of us approaching misery in such a way that it becomes a debilitating thing.



You have some interesting thoughts there.  This line of thinking is relevant to my own struggles, so I’ll take it out of the realm of generalities and abstractions, and speak from a more personal perspective.

I’m in my forties now.  I have struggled all of my adult life to reconcile my creative vision and drive as a writer – and the considerable demands it makes of me – with the need to “make a living.”  I knew when I was very young that I wanted to write, but was not ambitious in the conventional sense.  I knew I didn’t want a “normal” job, and I knew – though I couldn’t articulate it until much later – that there was something fundamentally wrong with the script I was given for how to live a good life (go to college, get a “good” full time job, buy a house, have kids, etc.)  I was stubborn and rebellious.  I was driven to seek the truth.  I wanted to understand WHY there was so much pressure to live my life according to this script.  I resisted the pressure to “get a job, any job” as much as possible.  Out of this struggle, Rethinking the Job Culture (originally Creating Livable Alternatives to Wage Slavery) was born.

I would very much like to live in a culture where people with creative visions could have the freedom to develop their arts and crafts without being forced into jobs they don’t care about just to earn money for their basic survival needs (including health care).  That’s one of the reasons I support an unconditional basic income.  However, I don’t live in that kind of culture.  I live in a culture that shames people like me, and evaluates the importance of creative work by whether or not it brings in money.

All my life I’ve been told in various ways that the problem I’m pointing out is not actually systemic or cultural, but individual: if I don’t fit into the job world as it stands, there must be something wrong with ME.  So, as you might imagine, I have been dealing with feelings of alienation and misery for quite a long time.

Are these feelings debilitating?  Sometimes they are, yes.  I relentlessly sought out the truth – I wanted to know why there seemed to be no place for people like me.  And the conclusions I came to have left me profoundly alienated from the culture of my upbringing, which is an ongoing source of misery.  I won’t turn my back on the truth – I can’t, anyway, because once you’ve seen behind the curtain, so to speak, you can’t ever un-see it – but you’re right that there is something “irreducible” in such a misery.  There is a price to be paid for such knowledge.  And it is a high price indeed.

Thanks for reading my mini-essay.  I guess I was inspired today.  😉

R. Buckminster Fuller on ‘earning a living’

Buckminster Fuller has been an inspiration to me for many years.  This provocative quote (from New York Magazine, 1970) generated lively discussion on Facebook.  I like to think that Bucky would approve of me posting it here.

What were you thinking about before somebody came along and told you that you had to earn a living?  For me, it was reading, writing, and dancing…

R. Buckminster Fuller quote